Sunday, January 31, 2010

Making life difficult for librarians

Librarians have been early adopters of many types of technology, starting with online catalogs a generation ago, but sometimes it seems as though tech producers don't reciprocate their affection. This week's tech sensation, the Apple i-Pad seems determined to make life difficult for librarians. The i-Pad looks as though it will be a great addition to the e-book reader lineup. It's clear screen with color will be attractive to many readers, but perhaps not as attractive if it uses a format incompatible with any other e-book reader. As this article in the San Francisco Chronicle explains, people would have to purchase different copies of e-books for the Kindle, the i-Pad and for other e-book readers. If libraries are going to make e-books available to their patrons, how will this splintering of technology affect them? Standardization is ideal for library formats that can be shared by different users. Why does i-Pad have to go its own way and ignore the convenience of users? It's time for the library profession to protest some of these technology advances that make life difficult for readers.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A more digital world

Publisher's Weekly reports on the activities at the Digital Book World conference in New York this week. Publishers recognize that tweens and teens are attracted to online media and books must have a presence there if they are to be successful. Authors have discovered that interacting with fans on a website or on Facebook leads to more sales and the development of a loyal audience. Harper Collins now spends more money on its online marketing efforts than on conventional print marketing. Simon & Schuster redesigned its website and got an increase of more than a thousand percent in teen visits. Surely this report is a wake-up call for librarians to increase their online presence. Although libraries can't spend the money that publishers can, they can put their time and energy into developing a Facebook presence and engaging in other social media. Tweeting and texting about new books is surely more effective than producing paper bookmarks for library distribution. This is no time to follow the habits of the past. Let the kids lead the way to the places they find their news and make the library a part of their world.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Echoes of 19th century frights

When Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Award last year for The Graveyard Book, many librarians hailed or deplored it as a new direction in children's literary awards. Even though his earlier book Coraline had been a success with both children and adults. Now a profile in the New Yorker tells the story of how Gaiman developed his style and his following. Beginning with comics he has moved on to use his blogs and his publications to build a huge audience, yet he has not yet been recognized as an important writer. Perhaps this New Yorker piece will do the trick. Rather than bringing children's literature something entirely new, Gaiman has drawn on themes from earlier writers, like the long-forgotten Lucy Clifford mentioned in the article and the more famous Rudyard Kipling, to write intriguing stories that capture modern sensibilities. It's another reminder that literature seldom creates something entirely new but builds on lasting interests and fears that never go out of date. Librarians should recognize that Gaiman is a fresh new voice building a bridge between the past and present for today's children.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where have all the articles gone?

Children and young adults are heavy uses of databases that include articles from popular magazines like Time, Sports Illustrated, and Discover. Most school and public libraries subscribe to several databases produced by companies like Gale and EBSCO. Now EBSCO has signed an exclusive contract with a whole string of magazine publishers giving it the right to be the only source for these article. This is going to make a huge difference to many librarians who depend on having a choice of which database to choose for their library. Read Joyce Valenza's blog about her fears of limiting information flow. Librarians with limited budgets (and that includes just about everyone) will have a hard time deciding how to continue offering this content to their users if they do not subscribe to EBSCO. These exlusive contract deals are a worrisome development.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Excitement at ALA

The highlight of Midwinter ALA for youth librarians is usually the book awards and this year was no exception. Great joy over the Newbery and Caldecott winners and Prinz winners BUT dismay about the change in the ground rules for YALSA awards. The Board has unanimously passed a ruling that the former Best Books for Young Adults will soon be Best Fiction Books. Nonfiction and graphic novels will both be left out of the running. Marc Aronson in his blog describes the rebellion stirring in the ranks of many young adult librarians who want the list to be more inclusive. Everyone knows that graphic novels are great favorites with teenagers. Many of them are literate and artistic stories told in imaginative formats. Why exclude them? Will the next step be to set up three different lists? Stay tuned to the blog world to follow this story as it unfolds.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Watch the award ceremony

Every year hundreds of children's librarians pack an auditorium in whatever city is holding the ALA conference to hear which books have won the Newbery and Caldecott medals. In olden days, after the announcement was made, people would rush off to find a phone booth to call back to their library and give the great news. Recently, of course, there's been so such scramble for communications. Interested people can watch the awards on the website or follow them on twitter by going to the handy link that ALSC has posted for the awards ceremony. Being librarians, the committee has chosen an early hour--7:45 AM EST--on Monday, Jan. 18 to announce the awards. How many people on the West Coast will be up at 4:45 to pay attention? It doesn't really matter. Whether you are on time or late, it's worth clicking on and finding out which lucky authors and publishers will be celebrating. The awards will bring thousands of new sales to the prizewinning books and hours of pleasure to child readers.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guessing the odds

The award season for children's books is upon us. In a few days the Newbery and Caldecott winners will be announced at the American Library Association's meeting in Boston. Librarians around the country have been talking about which of the hundreds of books published in 2009 will will the coveted awards. For those who want an early peek at how the odds are going, Publisher's Weekly has prepared an article based on many of the popular children's book blogs. Choices vary widely, but some predictions look quite firm. The busy award committees will be meeting long hours in Boston, but it's quite likely they will come up with the same winners predicted on blogs. If you want to prepare for the award announcements on Monday, you might want to spend the weekend reading some of the titles mentioned in the PW roundup.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Strange new generation?

According to an article in the N.Y. Times called "Old Fogies by Their 20's", children growing up in the 00's are likely to be very different even from those who grew up in the 90's. Think about the changes in technology over the past ten years. Four year olds today will never know a world without e-books or cell phones. They will learn to tap a screen a screen to change it and to listen to telephone calls, videos and music on the same small screen. Will they use books at all? Probably they will. It will be another generation or more before e-books can compete with picture books in picture quality and imaginative font use. Author, Brad Stone, suggests that children used to instant response from their electronic servants will expect the same from adults, but we suspect that as they grow older they too will learn not to expect instant replies from their doctors or their contractors just like the rest of us. As for increased multitasking, someone somewhere should be doing research to discover whether differences between age groups in this ability come from natural aging or whether they are trained. Children have been multitasking for years, but as adults most of them lose much of this ability. Every new generation looks strange and different, but each one eventually settles into the human pattern, although certainly with a few new twists.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Unsettling view of the future

You may be getting tired of reading articles about the future of reading--one of the favorite topics of librarians, teachers, and critics--but there is more to say. John Green's article in the January issue of School Library Journal, however, opens new vistas of possible futures for young young people and the adults who choose their books. Conventional publishing for adults and increasingly for children focuses on blockbuster novels that appeal to a wide reading base. This is what Green calls the Wal-Mart approach to selling books, choosing a few titles with broad appeal, in contrast to the approach which offers a wide range of titles each of which only has to be sold to a limited number of people to generate a profit. Librarians can purchase from either source and make them available. On the other hand, librarians could encourage authors to seek other formats for distributing their work, probably online. Books could be downloaded in any library and read on a mobile device. These books would not be limited entirely to words; illustrations, videos or audiofiles could be integrated. Just think how the librarian's job would change. Recommending, indexing, making available would still be our task, but eventually any library could offer almost any book in any language. Is this a possible future? Who knows? At least read the article and start thinking about the new world to come. Changing formats will challenge us, but the work we do is still vital.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Still going strong

The appointment of Katherine Patterson as the ambassador for Children's Literature in the United States is a recognition of the continuing importance of the literary tradition of children's books. In a time when publishers are scrambling to find the next trendy series to catch children's attention, it's nice to know that an author who writes serious books for thoughtful children is being honored. Librarians used to believe that "only the best is good enough for children" but a more common sentiment these days is that anything that gets a child to pick up a book is worth publishing and choosing for a library. Certainly light-hearted books have their place in a child's reading diet, but while generations of babysitters' pranks and vampire scares may fade from mind, many adults will remember the plot and characters of Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins for years. These books are truly an introduction not just to the skill of reading but to the rich rewards that come to some of us from a true literary experience of immersion and growth.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New year; old books

The first big news in children's publishing for 2010 is not a new series, but the revival of an old one. Scholastic is bringing back the Baby Sitters' Club books, bestsellers from a generation ago. Ann Martin, who wrote many of the original books has provided a prequel that sets the background for some of the characters, although it's hard to believe thirteen-year-olds have lengthy life histories. The push to revive this series may grow out of parental concern that the new crop of supernatural series books are not quite what they would like to see their daughters reading. Looking back, the Baby Sitters Club seems a wholesome glimpse of real life among girls who dream about cute basketball players more than pallid vampires. Perhaps the tide is turning and librarians, teachers and parents will be able to stop trying to keep up with the deluge of alien visitors from fantasy land.